From Gayle in Santa Cruz, CA

Hello Robert & Crew-

I wanted to provide some input on Living Room Conversations (LRC) as I have
been volunteering with them since last fall. As a member of my local
Indivisible’s Finding Common Ground/Project Connect Teams we have been
bringing LRC-Style conversations to our community. Several Indivisible
groups I am in contact with are using LRCs to reach out to their
surrounding communities.

I am also on the Better Angels Mailing list and follow what they are up to
relatively closely. They are based in the mid-atlantic/midwest region I
believe; or at least that’s where many of their events seem to have
occurred thus far (I live in Santa Cruz, CA).

What I admire about the Better Angels process is that it is a deep-dive
into the topic and a day-long event. I have a background in diversity
training and I am pleased to hear that Better Angels uses an exercise where
they deal with and speak out about the stereotypes (they are well aware of)
that exist out their about their group (Red or Blue), and they get to speak
out about this in a safe forum and give voice to how hurtful this is to
them. This is exceedingly rare and dare I say could be healing? Hence the
change in demeanor noted by David Brooks in his article.

The barrier to entry, though, is high in terms of getting involved with
Better Angels. Again, they have not yet made it out to my neck of the
woods. They require (necessary) training to become a facilitator or
trainer, although I believe it is free of charge to be trained once you are
accepted. In terms of participating in a workshop I’m not aware of any
costs, it would just entail gathering a group of 5 reds and 5 blues plus
the possible cost of bringing in a certified facilitator and trainer unless
one lives near you. Also, perhaps the costs of facilities rental/food.

The Living Room Conversations (LRC) model has about the lowest barrier to
entry out there. It’s open source and they encourage you to either start
with a conversation guide they’ve already created for over 60 topics (The
American Dream, Guns & Responsibility, Money in Politics) or they offer
guidance on how to create your own customized topic/questions. You can
also adapt one they’ve already created.

The approach is that two friends of differing political persuasions invite
two other friends and they meet for 1 1/2-2 hours in someone’s living room
or a coffee shop (or online) after agreeing on a topic. The conversations
are ‘held’ together by a 6-part conversation agreement that is reviewed at
the beginning in order to create ownership and buy-in for the guidelines.
The conversation can be hosted by the group as a whole via the guidelines
or sometimes by a designated host who completes a one hour training.

The intention is to understand; not debate or attempt to change minds. You
sometimes find yourself sharing your deepest values and may even see (for
the first time) how events in your past have led to the opinions and
perspectives you hold today. You often find common ground where you may
have thought none existed.

The challenge in some communities (like mine) with LRC is finding more
conservative conversation partners. There are some ways around this; some
topics taken up by even a mostly left of center group (To Vote or Not to
Vote; Affordable Housing, Status & Privilege) illustrate the differences in
opinion from center to far-left. Addressing these differences on the left
eventually could help one to hone skills to reach towards the right. I
have also participated in many LRCs online via zoom and have experienced
more diverse groups for conversations, some with whom I have met with 2-3
times on various topics.

April 20-28 is the National Week of Conversation (NWOC) sponsored by
several of the Civil Discourse/Dialogue & Deliberation organizations
including LRCs. Some of the events are in person but several are online
https://nationalweekofconversation.org/events/ and all appear to be FREE
of charge.

NWOC is sponsored by The Bridge Alliance https://www.bridgealliance.us/
comprised of over 80 member organizations. They are all working harder
than ever to elevate common decency, listening first, and putting country
above party.

Thank you,
Gayle
Santa Cruz, CA